Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
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Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News
Pharmaguy curates and provides insights into selected drug industry news and issues.
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A Tiny, Trash-Talking "Wrestler" is New Mascot for Novartis Carcinoid Tumor Disease Awareness Campaign

A Tiny, Trash-Talking "Wrestler" is New Mascot for Novartis Carcinoid Tumor Disease Awareness Campaign | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Pharma’s newest spokescharacter is a tiny, trash-talking professional wrestler. He’s part of a new disease awareness campaign for carcinoid syndrome from Novartis, created by Klick Health.

The gaudy, spandex-wearing wrestler, like persistent stomach pain and gastrointestinal issues, won’t leave a suffering man alone—punching, kicking and trash-talking him through everyday life. The TV spot, interactive display banners and social media posts direct people to a “What Am I Wrestling With” website that suggests constant sufferers may need to consider a different diagnosis.

The site introduces carcinoid syndrome, a rare condition caused by hormones released by an abnormal growth called a carcinoid tumor. As it notes, carcinoid tumors “are very uncommon and are usually small and slow-growing.” However, the symptoms of carcinoid syndrome include GI issues, such as recurring diarrhea, as well as maladies such as irregular heartbeat, skin flushing and difficult breathing. The site includes a 30-second self-quiz about signs and symptoms.

While the campaign is disease awareness only and doesn’t mention or link to any branded products, Novartis is the maker of Sandostatin LAR, a $1.6 billion seller that's used to treat acromegaly and severe diarrhea and flushing associated with carcinoid syndrome. That drug is facing generic erosion from a slew of companies this year, including Teva, Sun Pharma, Sagent Pharmaceuticals and Wockhardt.

Klick interviewed dozens of people who have the kinds of persistent GI problems the campaign seeks to highlight to check their reaction to the work, from the wrestler TV and banner ads that talk about GI discomfort to a website that raises the possibility of this type of cancer. The agency said it got no negative feedback.

“While it might seem at first blush as a mismatch between tone and the information or the possibility that it ultimately raises, I think we’re bringing more of our own biases or expectations than actually exists in people that are in that dynamic,” Elliot Langerman, chief creative officer at Klick, said in an interview.

Pharma Guy's insight:

I'll have to add him to my "Gallery of Drug Advertising Mascots": 

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#Pharma Disease Awareness Marketing Infiltrates Soap Operas Like General Hospital

#Pharma Disease Awareness Marketing Infiltrates Soap Operas Like General Hospital | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Last March, Vinay Prasad, a doctor in Portland, Oregon, caught wind of an episode on the long-running soap opera General Hospital. One of the main characters on the show, a fellow at his hospital told him, had been diagnosed with an extremely rare bone marrow cancer, polycythemia vera.


Prasad’s mind started spinning. And he felt suspicious. Of all the diseases out there, why would the writers at General Hospital feature an illness that affects only two in 100,000 people?


So Prasad and his colleague Sham Mailankody began to search for answers. They published their jaw-dropping findings in a new paper in JAMA: Polycythemia vera got a mention on America’s oldest soap opera because a drug company, Incyte, asked it to.


Incyte’s only FDA-approved drug, ruxolitinib, happens to treat the cancer. The General Hospital appearance was the company’s attempt to raise awareness about the rare disease — and possibly to sell more of its drug.


“Writing a [rare disease] into a main character plot on daytime soap opera to our knowledge is unprecedented,” Prasad said.


It may also lead to more people being diagnosed with an illness they don’t actually have or more people taking a drug that’s not good for them. “If every viewer of General Hospital heard about PV and went to their doc to be tested for PV, we would find way more PV than actually exists,” he said.


General Hospital takes “disease awareness” campaigning to absurd new heights

The Food and Drug Administration regulates direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceutical products — but it doesn’t regulate another common pharmaceutical marketing tactic called "disease awareness."


Incyte’s partnership with General Hospital was novel: Instead of getting a celebrity on daytime talk show talking about a disease, Incyte got the show’s producers to write it right into the plot.


The episode describes polycythemia vera, and depicts a blood clot one of General Hospital’s lead characters, Anna Devane, experienced as a consequence of the cancer. Devane’s doctor warns her that if she leaves her disease untreated, she may suffer a heart attack or stroke. When the doctor suggests she start on the usual treatments for the disease — anticoagulation drugs and drawing blood, Devane asks “But this protocol sounds like you are treating the symptoms of this cancer; how do we beat it?”


According to Prasad’s paper, these comments “may constitute subtle promotion of ruxolitinib.”


With a message this subtle, “there’s no way you would ever know it was connected to the drug company,” said Lisa Schwartz, a Dartmouth professor of medicine who studies pharmaceutical marketing. “Your natural skepticism that comes up when you see advertising is totally down because you don’t know the drug company has any role in the message you’re getting.”


Will this be the first of many examples of beloved TV shows becoming stealth vehicles for selling drugs? Schwartz hoped not. “This just seems like a terrible precedent and something needs to be addressed.”


Further Reading:

Pharma Guy's insight:

In 2005, the Roseland, N.J., firm placed posters for its Nuvaring contraceptive in the backgrounds of NBC's Scrubs and CBS' King of Queens. Since then, it has added ABC's Grey's Anatomy to its list, according to brand director Lisa Barkowski. "A lot of the feedback we get is from healthcare professionals," she said. "They mention it to [our] reps, 'Wow, I saw that poster.' It reinforces in their mind; it makes them think of the product." (This Is Your Show On Drugs: Rx Brands Injected Into Action)

Tim Malone's curator insight, May 22, 2017 7:27 AM
Wow. Pharma marketers now going to extraordinary lengths to reach consumers directly.
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Infographic: Mortality and Causes of Death: 2015 & 2030

Infographic: Mortality and Causes of Death: 2015 & 2030 | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

An infographic using data from the World Health Organization, showing how diseases and causes of death will develop between now and 2030.

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#Pharma "Disease Awareness" Ads: Are They "Stealthy" Fear Mongering Set Pieces?

#Pharma "Disease Awareness" Ads: Are They "Stealthy" Fear Mongering Set Pieces? | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Welcome to the world of unbranded [“disease awareness”] ads, a stealthy and lightly regulated form of drug marketing focused on educating the public about a health condition — which the pharma company just happens to sell a product to treat. The ads aren’t required to disclose side effects. Instead, they often direct patients to a website about the disease. Click on a few links and you’ll likely land on a page promoting the branded treatment.


The tack has fluctuated in popularity over the years, but it seems to be on the upswing, perhaps in part because public distrust of the pharma industry is so high that drug makers are scrambling for ways to promote their products more subtly, analysts said.


Two unbranded campaigns — Mylan’s allergy awareness ads (e.g., read “Mylan TV Spot for "": Doesn't Mention Risk of Not Being Able to Afford EpiPen!”) and Merck ads about vaccines (e.g., read “GSK's Whooping Cough Vaccination Campaign Needlessly Vilifies Grannies!”) — both ranked among the top 10 most expensive TV drug ad campaigns last month, according to data from the ad tracking firm


Other unbranded campaigns have also made headlines recently: The marketer of a drug for opioid-induced constipation aired one during the Super Bowl, stirring controversy (read “Super Bowl DTC Drug Ads Spark Backlash!”). Another unbranded ad, from the maker of a heart failure drug, drew sharp condemnation from cardiologists who called it manipulative and shameful.


All told, the drug industry has spent $171 million on unbranded ads so far this year, up 15 percent over the same period last year, according to the media research firm Nielsen.


That’s only a fraction of the industry’s total ad spending; last year drug makers spent a whopping $6 billion, mostly on branded ads that explicitly promote their products.


If you watch enough unbranded drug ads, you’ll notice a theme: they’re often pretty ominous in tone.


In Mylan’s anaphylaxis awareness ad, a young woman is shown with alarming red splotches all over her skin after accidentally ingesting peanuts. She gasps and collapses as her panicked friends try to help (read “OMG! A White Person is in Shock!”).


Those are tame compared to a recent interactive digital ad from Boehringer Ingelheim designed to raise awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for which the company sells a treatment. Another recent unbranded ad, also from Boehringer Ingelheim, relies on eerie silence to raise awareness of a fatal lung disease for which the company sells a treatment.


It’s no coincidence that these ominous ads are unbranded, said John Mack, who has tracked many of them in his digital newsletter Pharma Marketing News.


If you’re a drug maker, “you don’t want to attach a dark image to the brand — so you’re attaching this dark imagery to a medical condition instead,” Mack said. That leaves room for a branded ad that shows “the bright side: that there’s this product that can save the day.”

Pharma Guy's insight:

Make sure you read the end of this piece for my quoted insight regarding the synergy between unbranded and branded DTC ads.


Related: “All We Have to Fear is... Scary #Pharma Disease Awareness Ads!”;

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Mylan TV Spot for "": Doesn't Mention Risk of Not Being Able to Afford EpiPen!

Mylan TV Spot for "": Doesn't Mention Risk of Not Being Able to Afford EpiPen! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

When a girl begins to suffer a reaction to a food allergy, her friends frantically try to figure out what's happening. One girl asks the host of the party if there were peanuts in the brownies and sure enough, they were made with peanut butter. Mylan advises people with allergens to talk to their doctor about a prescription treatment for severe reactions, because every six minutes, someone with life-threatening food allergies is sent to the hospital.

Pharma Guy's insight:

Mylan and its CEO, Heather Bresch, who described EpiPen as her "baby," are now facing the risk it took when it raised the price of EpiPen by 400%. For more on that, read “Mylan CEO Bresch, aka "Pharma Sis," Defends Price Gouging, Tax Evasion as Job Savers”; 

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All We Have to Fear is... Scary #Pharma Disease Awareness Ads!

All We Have to Fear is... Scary #Pharma Disease Awareness Ads! | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Novartis may have just handed the many critics of pharmaceutical advertising a gift.

The drug maker is running a promotional campaign, including a 30-second TV spot, designed to raise awareness of heart failure. But the campaign, which features a man blissfully sitting in an easy chair while water quickly fills his living room, is being called “alarmist,” “terrifying” and “shameful” by heart specialists, according to CardioBrief.

The TV ad does have an ominous feel to it. As water rises, a voice warns that “heart failure is always on the rise. Symptoms worsen because your heart isn’t pumping well. About 50 percent of people die within five years of getting diagnosed. But there’s something you can do. Talk to your doctor about heart failure treatment options. Because the more you know, the more likely you are to keep pumping.”

The controversy arises just three months after the American Medical Association called for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines. In reaching its decision, the professional society argued that the advertising is designed to generate demand for new and expensive drugs, which may not be necessary.

One marketing expert believes Novartis is making a mistake.

“Scaring consumers is precisely the goal of this and many other disease awareness ads,” said John Mack, who publishes Pharma Marketing News. “Novartis should pull the ad because it is getting some negative feedback from prominent physicians.

“This is not the time to give the AMA more ammunition to use in its campaign to ban all prescription drug DTC advertising. With all the so-called talented ad agencies out there, I’m sure they can come up with a more creative, less scary, and just-as-effective replacement ad.”

Pharma Guy's insight:

Not everyone agreed, though, that the campaign is off the mark. “I think this (ad) is very well done,” said Richard Meyer, a pharmaceutical marketing consultant who writes The World of DTC Marketing blog. “It is helping patients become more empowered by learning about heart failure.  I can’t see any patients running to the doctor to say ‘I have heart failure.’ Rather, it provides information something that most doctors don’t do.”

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Sage's Postpartum Depression Awareness Campaign "Infantilizes" Women Say Critics

Sage's Postpartum Depression Awareness Campaign "Infantilizes" Women Say Critics | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Sage Therapeutics, a biotech developing an experimental treatment for postpartum depression, this week trumpeted strong results from a clinical trial, which cheered investors and pushed up its stock price. But outside the lab, the company’s aggressive efforts to raise awareness of postpartum depression have proved divisive.


The campaign’s message: “When it comes to postpartum depression, silence sucks.” It features close-up photos of distressed, tearful women who can’t speak — because they have pacifiers stuck in their mouths.


The images have been plastered on bus stops, buses, conference booths, and on a dedicated website. The ads don’t specifically mention Sage’s drug, which still needs further testing before the company can bring it to the Food and Drug Administration for possible approval. Instead, they urge women to talk “openly and honestly” about postpartum depression. An estimated 600,000 women in the U.S. alone experience symptoms, which range from insomnia and irritability to difficulty bonding with their baby.


“I like it. Informative and somewhat reassuring,” said Meg Arthur, a 34-year-old mother of three who’s a member of a Facebook support group for postpartum depression. But critics say the choice to picture women sucking on pacifiers “infantilizes” mothers and their illness.


“Even if they had just used the pacifier alone, that would have been better than having women experiencing rage, pain, and sadness with baby pacifiers in their mouths,” said Mara Acel-Green, a psychotherapist in Watertown, Mass. who specializes in counseling women with postpartum depression.


Green and other clinicians also said they see the campaign as a missed opportunity to prod doctors to be more proactive in asking women about their symptoms.


“‘Silence Sucks’ places the onus on women [to speak up],” she said. “I think providers are silent. It’s not the women. Nobody is asking them.”


Dr. Steve Kane, the chief medical officer at Sage, said he hoped the campaign would encourage conversation. “During an episode of postpartum depression, feelings of guilt, shame or fear can be significant barriers that prevent women from speaking up about their symptoms,” he said.


Dr. Anna Glezer, a California psychiatrist who treats patients with postpartum depression, said such campaigns are helpful — whatever viewers may think about the pacifiers — in raising awareness.

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Gilead’s New Hep C TV Campaign Urges Baby Boomers to Get Off Their Butts & Get Tested

Gilead’s New Hep C TV Campaign Urges Baby Boomers to Get Off Their Butts & Get Tested | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Gilead's hep C blockbusters are in freefall, and its pool of eligible patients has shrunk dramatically thanks to the success of its meds. If all baby boomers got tested for the virus, though? That could help stem the tide—and it's exactly the move the company is recommending with its latest awareness push.


With its second awareness effort—the first began in 2014 before its hep C combo Harvoni hit the market—the Big Biotech reaches out to the almost 75 million people born between 1945 and 1965, following the age range used by the CDC in its recommendation that all baby boomers get tested for hepatitis C.


"For millions of baby boomers, there's a virus out there. A virus that's serious, like HIV, but it hasn't been talked about much," a narrator says over images of active boomers looking out over majestic nature scenes. "One in 30 boomers has hep C, yet most don't even know it," the narrator notes, before going over the disease's liver damage and cancer risks and reminding viewers that testing is "the only way to know for sure."


While the first awareness campaign sought to re-engage people diagnosed with hep C, the current campaign, dubbed “Forgotten Virus,” goes out more broadly to baby boomers who may not know about the disease, to encourage testing and also to let them know that if they do have it, it can be cured, said David Johnson, Gilead VP, U.S. sales and marketing for liver diseases, in an email interview. Boomers are about five times more likely to have hep C than other adults.


The campaign comes at a time when sales of one-time record-breakers Harvoni and component med Sovaldi are slumping; Gilead recently reported that Harvoni sales dropped by 34% in 2016, thanks to competition (read “Gilead Sales of Hep C Drugs May Drop to $14 Bn by 2018 Due to Stiff Competition”;, payer discounting and the inevitable slowdown of patients, as many people who had hep C when the combo launched have now been treated (read "Will Gilead’s Hep C Sales Implode or Just 'Hit Equilibrium?'";  Targeting unaware baby boomers could unearth new patients that need treatment.

Pharma Guy's insight:

HA HA! The ad shows baby boomers lounging on bent trees and wandering aimless through the landscape as if they are in a trance and have nothing better to do! No doubt millennials are in charge of the storyboards for these ads and it's their way of getting back at their baby boomer parents!

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Are We at the Saturation Point Viz-a-Viz Celebrity Pharma Endorsements?

Are We at the Saturation Point Viz-a-Viz Celebrity Pharma Endorsements? | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

I read with interest today's email missive from Bob Ehrlich, Chairman of DTC Perspectives. He was talking about the "Dry Eye DTC Battle" between Allergan's Restasis and the new kid on the bloc: Shire's Xiidra (two i's - get it? aka two "eyes").


Ehrlich pointed out that Shire enlisting Jennifer Aniston is a "big get. Getting a movie star to promote the dry eye condition must have cost Shire a lot in talent fees," said Ehrlich.


"Obviously they think she is worth it. Her ad just went on air under the 'myeyelove' title" (read "Jennifer Aniston is Shilling for Shire!").


Ehrlich noted that Aniston is getting "lots of commercial endorsements these days. She is touting skin care brand Aveeno and plugging the comforts of Emirate Airways. I am sure Shire considered whether we at a Jennifer saturation point. My feeling is we can take a couple more campaigns before she gets overused."


My view is that celebs are being overused by pharma marketers these days. Why? Find out here...

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Awash in Criticism, Mylan Has Decreased its Fearmongering Awareness Advertising

Awash in Criticism, Mylan Has Decreased its Fearmongering Awareness Advertising | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Amid the rising controversy surrounding price increases to $600 or more for its allergy-combatting EpiPen, owner Mylan has drastically decreased the frequency of airings of its "Face Your Risk" commercial, according to research compiled for Ad Age by media research firm


The 30-second spot, which debuted as part of a larger campaign in late April, features a terrifying scene in which a woman with a peanut allergy accidentally eats a peanut-butter-filled brownie at a party (read “Mylan TV Spot for "": Doesn't Mention Risk of Not Being Able to Afford EpiPen!”;


Since the spot is filmed from the perspective of the victim, viewers see the horrified expressions of other partygoers before glimpsing the bloated and blotchy face of the allergy sufferer in a mirror. Interestingly, the spot makes no mention of the EpiPen, but directs consumers to an awareness website which then leads to a separate EpiPen information website.


Mylan has spent $14.7 million running the ad—44% of the company's total 2016 TV spending so far this year -- on the campaign, according to iSpot. The ad ran 326 times the week of July 31. Yet in recent weeks, as the public outcry against Mylan has grown, the spots are appearing less often. Mylan ran the commercial 292 times the week of Aug. 7, 66 times the week of Aug. 14, and has only aired it twice in the last four days, iSpot found.


A published list of healthcare awards given in 2015 by DTC Perspectives cites Publicis Lifebrands Evolvr as creating an print ad for EpiPen that made its finalist list. Publicis did not immediately return calls for comment.


Initial reaction to the "Face Your Risk" commercial was positive on social media, as many said it illustrated the true and often shocking nature of peanut allergies. Yet sentiment has soured more recently.


One healthcare marketing expert said Mylan is not alone in its fearmongering as a way to get consumers on board with its pricey product. John Mack, who runs electronic newsletter Pharma Marketing News, noted that he is seeing an increase in scary ad campaigns.


"A trend with companies, especially ones with injectable drugs and vaccines, which also have big price increases, is to scare people into buying their product or getting their vaccine," he said.

Pharma Guy's insight:

But has Mylan decreased its EpiPen branded advertising? i.e., its DTC Prespective "award winning" print ads in women's mags?


Did you catch my quote at the end of this article?


Also read for background: “Mylan CEO Bresch, aka ‘Pharma Sis,’ Defends Price Gouging, Tax Evasion as Job Savers”; However, Bresch did not mention THAT in defense of EpiPen’s price increase during her recent CNBC interview. No, she blamed the U.S. healthcare system: “Mylan CEO Bresch Says Healthcare in Crisis No Different Than 2007 Financial Crisis!”;

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Endo Pharmaceuticals’ Ads Bring Awareness to Penile Curvature

Endo Pharmaceuticals’ Ads Bring Awareness to Penile Curvature | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |

Peyronie’s disease is a “prevalent” but under-diagnosed – and misunderstood – condition that causes curvature of the penis when a man is aroused.


Endo Pharmaceuticals is trying to straighten things out a bit – bringing awareness to the disease with a new ad campaign. It portrays bent beer and ketchup bottles to help represent similarly contorted equipment – showcasing Peyronie’s as an everyman’s disease.


And this “Ask About the Curve” awareness campaign is a clear means for Endo to broaden the market for its Peyronie’s disease drug, Xiaflex. Ads for the drug have similar messaging.


The campaign claims that 1 in 10 men globally could have the condition. While literature places the incidence rate around 1 to 3 percent of men, researchers estimate many more men have the disease, but many men are reticent to report their condition to a urologist.

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The History, Effectiveness & Ethics of Celebrity Drug Endorsement

The History, Effectiveness & Ethics of Celebrity Drug Endorsement | Pharmaguy's Insights Into Drug Industry News |
Drug companies pay big money for celebrities to raise awareness of drugs and diseases. Critics question the motives of the stars, and academics wonder if it’s worth the financial cost.

In 1958, Milton Berle became one of the first celebrities to promote a pharmaceutical drug, according to a review published in the American Journal of Public Health. Calling himself “Miltown Berle,” the comedian joked about his use of a depressant called Miltown, and the makers of the drug — Carter Products — promoted Berle’s jokes to gossip columnists.

Companies soon began hiring journalists to promote drugs in columns even as the writers presented themselves as objective, unbiased reporters, according to the AJPH review. And so began the rapid advancement of marketing tactics and promotion of pharmaceuticals by celebrities.

Pharmaceutical companies are very, very good at advertising and marketing their drugs. The industry’s 10 highest grossing companies spent $98.3 billion on marketing in 2014. They brought in a combined $429.4 billion in sales that year.

“Celebrity spokespersons provide many advantages when working with a pharmaceutical company,” Amy Doner, president and founder of the Amy Doner Group, said. “Most important, the right spokesperson with a personal genuine connection can help motivate people to sit up, take notice and take action when dealing with their own health or the health of loved ones.”

Although past research indicated celebrities could raise awareness, research doesn’t show clear proof that celebrity endorsements change consumer behavior.

A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing found celebrity promotions of disease awareness did not affect consumer’s views of an advertisement or the company being advertised. The ads didn’t affect consumer behavior either. The study did find consumers paid more attention to ads with celebrities and found the ads to be more credible.

“There is nothing unethical about using your celebrity status to motivate people to see their doctor,” Doner said, speaking about the ethics of celebrity endorsements in general. “They are not claiming to be doctors nor are they offering medical advice. They are simply using their voice to reach as many people as they can with important health information that can save a life.”

Pharma Guy's insight:

"In many situations, celebrities promote drugs that ease symptoms, save lives and rarely cause harmful side effects. They just have to play by the same rules that Big Pharma has to play by and make sure they aren’t breaking the law."

But when social media is involved, it is easier for celebrities to skirt -- and even break -- the law and reach many more people for a lot less money. For more on that, read "Celebrities + Social Media"; 

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